FGCU's plans to strengthen hospitality program could mean faculty job cuts
Changes are coming to the hospitality program at Florida Gulf Coast University. And while the goal is to amp up the curriculum to make graduates more competitive in the workforce, it also means some faculty could be out of a job.
The nine instructors working in the Resort & Hospitality Management program were notified of this possibility earlier this month. This came in the form of a non-reappointment letter, which gives the professors a year’s notice that they could lose their jobs.
“What we did was notify everyone,” explained Jim Llorens, the interim provost and vice president for academic affairs.
Attempts to speak with faculty about this have been unsuccessful.
In the coming weeks, the university will have a better idea of who will be kept on at the school. This decision will be based on how their courses, expertise and training could fit into the needs of FGCU’s business school.
This is part of a restructuring effort the university has launched to better align the hospitality program to Lutgert College of Business, where, starting this fall, hospitality students will incorporate more courses like accounting, spreadsheet modeling and data analysis into their training.
Although the new curriculum will start with incoming students this fall, existing students should not worry about their track. They will be grandfathered in and allowed to complete their studies as originally planned.
Likewise, instructors will be needed to work through this phase-out process, which Llorens said could take a couple of years to complete.
This even applies to spa management, a concentration within the hospitality program that is being eliminated because of low enrollment.
But the program is already feeling a loss.
Transitioning from facials to office space
A student-run spa, called The Spa Lab, shuttered its doors on June 7, and already work has been done by the university to transform rooms once used for salon treatments into office space for the Small Business Development Center.
More renovation is needed in the space in the weeks to come, but signs from the spa are still on display in the halls. One room, marked for hydrotherapy treatments, still contains a remnant of the spa — a whirlpool that will require extensive work to remove.
The spa was located on the second floor of Sugden Hall, and was open to the public, students and faculty.
Although the menu of services included facials, nail and hair treatments and massages — all provided by licensed experts — the university found it wasn't regularly used and it was a "revenue drain."
In speaking with industry leaders, Llorens said the university was told having a special concentration in spa management was fine, but it often proved too narrow of a focus to make graduates competitive in the job market.
“As industry changes, we have to make sure that our students are prepared to meet those changes, and that’s the thrust of this,” Llorens said. “In our programs, we always constantly strive to ensure that our course offerings are relevant to the discipline and what skills and knowledge our students are expected to graduate with.”
Word has spread through the community about the changes coming to the university, and that’s no surprise considering how tourism drives the local economy.
“We don’t produce cars or steel or oil, we produce tourism,” explained Jefferson Webb, a Lee County hotelier with 32 years in the tourism industry. He serves as the president of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association’s regional chapter.
“Our hometown company is tourism,” he continued. “We produce memories, experiences, vacations, and we need to get behind that and understand that will be our resource.”
And while staying up on industry trends is important, Webb said hospitality schools, like the program at FGCU, should not undercut the value of teaching students the basics in business management, like how to read and understand profit-and-loss sheets and cash flow statements.
“The management basics are really important,” he said.
And that idea — of what makes graduates not only successful, but sought-after — has been a key talking point since the Resort & Hospitality Management program started its re-accreditation process more than a year ago.
Taking the program to the next level
The hospitality program needed to conduct a self-study as part of this process, but before sending it off to its accrediting body, it hired a consultant to review the report.
“Her report indicated it really was not, she thought, adequate enough that it would gain re-accreditation — that it just needed some more work done on it before we submitted it,” Llorens said.
The school asked for and received an extension for turning in its reapplication, and the university hired a second consultant to look more thoroughly at its hospitality program.
“We started reviewing the curriculum and talking to students and talking with the faculty and the leadership, and we realized we had reached a point where we needed to make some changes in the RHM (Resort & Hospitality Management) program,” Llorens said. “Enrollment had dropped over the past few years, and we just believed that the rigor of the program could be enhanced.”
In the fall of 2014, two years after Resort & Hospitality Management was moved into the business college, 679 students were enrolled in the program. This accounted for 19 percent of the Lutgert College of Business.
This past year, enrollment sat at 484 for the hospitality program, taking up 12.4 percent of the business school population.
The program's accreditation study has been submitted to the hospitality board (the Accreditation Commission for Programs In Hospitality Administration), but Llorens said a goal of the restructuring process will be for the hospitality program to gain accreditation with the same board the business college uses, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
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